Work-Life Balance: How Local Lawyers Avoid Burnout

By Joshua Bonnici

“You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.” — Heather Schuck,  The Working Mom Manifesto

Lawyering is tough: endless client calls and emails; opposing attorneys scheduling ex parte hearings every week; the never-ending cycle of discovery deadlines.

But you knew all of that. You live it everyday. What are you doing, however, to make sure you’re fresh and sharp for each new challenge? Lawyer burnout is real, but many local legal professionals have found ways to combat legal fatigue.

A recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found that male lawyers were more likely to turn to suicide than other professionals. In 1990, Johns Hopkins University examined more than 100 occupations for anxiety-related issues; it found that lawyers suffered from depression 3.6 times more than the other professions studied.

So how are San Diego lawyers combating the day in, day out stress of practicing law?

In December, I rode my bike 170 miles in two days. Seriously. My bicycle. I participated in a local century ride (105 miles in one ride) and then a “metric” century (100 kilometers, or about 65 miles). The first I did with a fellow lawyer, and the other with a professional referral source. But what’s the main reason I ride? When I’m on the bike, my mind is clear: no emails, no phone calls, no interns with questions about discovery responses. The simplicity of pedaling, breathing and avoiding the occasional car reinvigorates mind and body. I’m fresh in the office for the next week. My staff can always tell when I haven’t had my weekly ride; I’m not as energetic on projects or as patient with clients.

Local estate planning attorney Löan Shillinger has a similar approach. She uses trail running not only to connect with other runners, but after to get to her quiet place. As the principal attorney at Shillinger Law, and a mother of two, she rarely has quiet time to recharge or streamline her focus on a difficult case. “I have always been active, but needed something I could do for a quick 30-minute jaunt, or all day, depending on what my schedule would allow.” Since taking up trail running in late 2015, she has joined the SD Dirt Devils (a SoCal distance trail running group), started her own Dirt Devils Meetup for trail runners at Balboa Park, and has completed a 50K trail run in Marin County. She’s currently training for a 50-mile trail run this year in Arizona. “There’s nothing like only focusing on putting one foot in front of the other on a trail in the middle of the woods, with fresh air, beautiful scenery and no cell reception. I can quiet my mind from a stressful week, or hone-in on a big case that may need extra attention. As a business owner and mother, it’s necessary—for my sake and my family’s—to get my running time in.”

Sometimes it’s exercising the mind more than the lungs. DUI lawyer Eric Ganci, with Ganci, Esq., APC, finds escape in a different route. “When I’m drumming, I’m keeping the creative side of my brain alive, and feeding my ‘former life’ before the law.” Ganci, with a degree in percussion from Northern Illinois University, enjoys playing the drums with a local live karaoke band called ROK (Rock Out Karaoke). Playing reminds him of his first passion, drumming, and also connects him with friends on a musical level. “Communicating with my bandmates onstage during a set, without talking, recharges me,” said Ganci. When asked about how he finds time to play gigs, while running a very busy DUI practice in San Diego, he said: “You don’t find time, you make time. Sometimes I sacrifice sleep for drumming, but I’m a more focused lawyer when I get my drumming time in.” Check out
www.rockoutkaraoke.com to see Eric play live at a venue near you. You’ll be glad you did.

Staying sharp and avoiding burnout doesn’t only happen on the lawyer’s side of the bar; judges have to stay focused every day too. I sat in Judge Timothy Taylor’s chambers, discussing how some local lawyers refresh their minds. “Being a lawyer is one of the most important occupations on the planet. It’s a serious job, where a lawyer must pour their absolute best effort into every case as if it were their own.” Judge Taylor prides himself on being as focused as possible when on the bench. His method of recharging? “I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and go for a run on the beach,” said Hon. Taylor. He appreciates the quiet time as much as the physical activity, which is important as he sits nearly all day. For his major recharge-time, he goes fly-fishing, where he can enjoy the outdoors with minimal distractions.

Keeping fresh (mentally and physically) is a must with today’s always-connected legal landscape. Unplug, disconnect, get out and feed your passion!

Still struggling with burnout and think it’s affecting your ability to practice law? Ask a close colleague or mentor for some advice. Or for anonymous help, check out resources at the American Bar Association’s website: www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.html.

Whatever you do, be proactive and make a change today. Whether it’s riding your bike 100 miles in a day, playing drums while a stranger belts out a rock ballad or fishing in the middle of a National Park miles from any other person, find an outlet and stay focused. Our profession, and your health, depends on it.

Joshua Bonnici (josh@bonnicilawgroup.com) is managing attorney with Bonnici Law Group, APC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *